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Rethinking enterprise social networks

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For example, Adobe, which inherited "activity stream" functionality via its Day Software acquisition, is now using it to knit together not only the Adobe Marketing Cloud suite, but also its Creative Cloud suite, providing the potential to collaborate across both, and to create a visual asset in one and then deploy it in the other. Another process-driven example is SAVO Group, which has a social layer deployed primarily to allow sales professionals to build support materials for the opportunities on which they are working, and to provide annotations and feedback about the relative strengths of presentations or other materials provided by marketing teams for their use.

From a slightly different angle, Google is following its well-trodden path of taking technology developed for consumers and gradually applying it to the enterprise. It is beginning to make progress with Google+ for Enterprise within its business apps stack. Google+ for Enterprise is completely demarked from the public version of the system in terms of content, but the functionality can be used within an organization as a way of surfacing and sharing data. It is dependent on the adoption of the rest of the Google Enterprise stack, but it knits together the mobile device, OS and application elements neatly.

The independents

Customer-facing social platforms (Download Chart 2) have undergone a similar transformation in recent times. Their centrality to acquiring and maintaining customer relationships has grown with the maturity of social media as a layer of mass consumption has been established. This has brought with it the end of the "amateur age"—organizations have begun to realize that issues of governance and integration in legacy line-of-business applications are necessary to realize the value of those interactions.

The independent players in this marketplace range from the simpler HootSuite, which recently announced a $165 million series B funding round, and SproutSocial social account handling tools-both of which have enterprise aspirations, even if the majority of the customer base resides in the small business and "prosumer" brackets at present. Primarily targeted at the enterprise, Sprinklr comes with the type of line-of-business integrations, governance and auditory controls that organizations with multiple brands, geographies and reseller channels need to maintain control of their social media presences.

We see this as a marketplace that is settling and relatively stable, with plenty of opportunity for new entrants and existing players alike to provide deeper links into applications, data silos and associated business processes, as well as to build smarter analytical tools to prompt and recommend actions and activities to users.

The overriding lesson that has been learned from the first decade of "social business" is that it must find a true purpose or process to support in order to succeed as a part of any enterprise stack. Simply parachuting social into an organization and expecting it to possess transformational qualities is a quick way to create a valueless and barely used silo of information. Where the value of social platforms lies is in deploying social tools to glue together existing processes, to help deliver a shared business goal as part of a defined workflow, or to help socialize processes to a wider community within an organization.

Outside the organization, too, where social media has the reach and critical mass to make it a viable channel for customer interaction, enterprises are learning that its true value is in helping support the totality of its business activities—cross-promoting marketing activities and supporting the use of products and services, while potentially benefitting from the content of the conversations that are generated. Knowledge management theory and history has a potentially pivotal role to play in the future "socialization" of business—lessons that were theoretically learned a decade or more ago appear as new news to this generation of social entrepreneurs. That is a shame, because the technology they have to share with us today makes the KM products of the late 90s look primitive, but people are people and don't change at the pace technologists and futurists like to believe. Arguably they don't fundamentally change at all. The technology should be there to augment human activities, not impose unwanted working cultures. Social networking technologies are learning that lesson, but there is still a long way to go.


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